Saturday, April 30, 2011

A view of San Francisco from Dry Creek Park in Union City.  I can't remember a day so clear.  It is 25 miles to the city as the buzzard flies.  What landmarks can you see?
Kartini: Regarding California's plan to legalize, produce and tax drugs.

This is an excerpt from an Indonesian girl's writings of a century ago, translated into English.  Kartini is the subject of a post by Tikno.

"The opium tax is one of the richest sources of income of the Government - what matter if it go well or ill with the people? - the Government prospers.   This curse of the people fills the treasury of the Dutch Indian Government with thousands - nay, with millions.  Many say that the use of opium is no evil, but those who say that have never known India, or else they are blind.

What are our daily murders, incendiary fires, robberies, but the direct result of the use of opium?  True, the desire for opium is not so great an evil as long as one can get it - when one has money to buy the poison; but when one cannot obtain it - when one has no money with which to buy it, and is a confirmed user of it?  Then one is dangerous, then one is lost.  Hunger will make a man a thief, but the hunger for opium will make him a murderer. There is a saying here - 'At first you eat opium, but in the end it will devour you.'" - Letters of a Javanese Princess.

Supposedly marijuana isn't as bad as opium, although the desperation for which marijuana is being pushed means that it is on a similar trajectory.  Then there is the dysfunctional legal environment that makes it easy to push harder drugs that are as bad as opium.
Aquinas (1225-1274AD):  The Teacher.

"It seems that only God can teach and be called a teacher." - On The Teacher, Disputed Questions on Truth.

This paper is a discussion on learning.  For those who dream of going to alien worlds far away, it might be worthwhile considering the alien universe of the past.  My goal has been to understand the roots of Christian theology.  Yes, it connects to the Bible, but what we have received today was largely formed in a different intellectual climate than what we have today.  This is one that is heavily dependent on classical philosophy, yet it is impossible to appreciate this climate without reading extensively the writers of the time(s) directly.  If there is some institution that really immerses and appreciates this, I would love to know.

The argument Aquinas is describing regarding teaching is that one person can only make signs and motions towards another through the imperfect vehicle of language or graphical illustration.  What is learned by the student, however, represents a reconfiguration of the mind - an imparting of a form onto the mind.  While a man can influence the forms that develop in another's mind, the process of the development of the mental form is something that cannot be compelled.  It is internal to the student.  This observation is something that is just as true in the classical world view as with the modern viewpoint where the mind stores images through biochemical processes.  From my personal viewpoint, we see that people develop their mental images much differently if we compare one person to another.  Then there is the complaint that fundamentalists are taught, but then develop entirely different forms in their imagination than what was intended.  Indeed that is so.  It is a virtue because we correct the erroneous form that was taught as we are learning!  More generally, everyone receives the form that is taught and adjusts it per their experiences and intellectual capacity.

Aquinas lists a large number of arguments both for and against the view that God alone can teach.  One point that caught my attention in passing is this:

"Moreover, Augustine says in On The Teacher, 'God alone has a chair in the heavens and on it he teaches truth; a man is so related to that chair as the farmer to the tree, which he does not make but cultivates.'  Therefore, no man can be called a teacher of science, but rather disposes for science." - Aquinas.

A lot of science teachers would be challenged by the above.  It so happened that I was starting another work of Augustine (354-430AD) at the same time, On Free Choice of the Will.  The notions of the teacher have other consequences regarding good and evil.  Here is an excerpt from Augustine's improved Socratic dialog method:

"Well then, if all understanding is good, and no one who does not understand learns, then everyone who learns is doing good.  For everyone who learns, understands; and everyone who understands is doing good.  So someone who wants to know the cause of our learning something really wants to know the cause of our doing good.  So let's have no more of your wanting to hunt down this mysterious evil teacher.  If he is evil, he is no teacher; and if he is a teacher, he is not evil." - On The Free Will, Augustine.

Elsewhere I read that this work (or maybe On The Teacher) was one of Augustine's earlier works and a topic of a later work entitled Retractions.  The comments of Aquinas on the subject include many references to Aristotle.  I had deliberately set aside Aquinas for a time due to the fact that so much of his work was predicated on notions that were developed in Aristotle (384-322BC).  Having banged my head into Aristotle's works for a time, this is quite helpful as I try to understand Aquinas.  What is also clear is that the subject involves streams of thought that cover 1,500 years, are scattered among many works and authors, yet have a direct bearing on our views of human evil and God's nature.  I have also decided that to truly understand theology in the manner that I have sought to do it is beyond human power ... it is God alone who can impart such understanding!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Aristotle:  Universals, particulars, ...

It is a relief to have completed one of the most difficult works in classical philosophy.

"And one could make this assertion evident from the actual occurrence of facts; for without universals, of course, it is not possible to attain unto scientific knowledge: but the abstraction of them from singulars is a cause of the difficulties that ensue in regard of ideas." - The Metaphysics, XIII.9

The above statement is no less evident today.  As always, much of what I have seen written in summary about Aristotle was either misleading or I misunderstood.  Aristotle has a balanced view of universals and particulars.  His main target of attack in The Metaphysics is the choice of numbers, dyads or monads as the most basic principle of entity.  These would seem to lead to numerology or dualistic philosophies which Aristotle is specifically debunking.  Instead, he advocates a first mover who is God, independent of the entities that make up creation.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Aristotle:  The First Mover

"Of necessity, in this case, must this Immovable First Mover constitute an entity; and so far forth as it subsists necessarily, so far forth does it subsist after an excellent manner; and in this way constitutes a first principle." - The Metaphysics, XII.7

That sounds a lot like God.  A bit later we see this:

"In this way, however, is the deity disposed as to existence, and the principle of life is, at any rate, inherent in the deity; for the energy or active exercise of Mind constitutes life, and God - as above delineated - constitutes this energy; and essential energy belongs to God as his best and everlasting life."

There is considerably more here, but we see Aristotle arguing that reason and science lead directly to an understanding of God as the First Mover.  Today we are told that the first mover was the Big Bang, and that this is the result of science and reason.  I have to wonder.  If the Big Bang had mass, then it would be a black hole and there wouldn't be any bang.  If it were pure energy, we can circumvent this problem, but at the cost of creating a massless universe.  Is there really a scrap of scientific legitimacy to the Big Bang?  Or is this just one more intellectualloid hoax?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Echo Summit

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Easter bunny flees ... time to celebrate Christ's resurrection.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Avalanche conditions: low.

Strung Out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pondering spears and pruning hooks.

"He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." - Isaiah 2:4

Three famous sentences ... except for the first. Everyone claims to like the last sentence, but the first implies a theocracy with God (i.e. Jesus) ruling directly. The second sentence is the one I want to focus on: "swords into plowshares" and "spears into pruning hooks". It sounds so romantic that the instruments of war would be turned into instruments for producing food. My immersion in non-modern literature, however, is starting to give me a different viewpoint.

Today we look fondly upon the notion of open borders where the poor can seek a livelihood elsewhere. Earlier generations, however, had a different view as Vikings, Saxons or Huns raided here and there. The reason they did this is that it was far easier to pick up a sword, cut someone's head off, and take whatever they had stored up than to go out and plow your own field. In a similar manner, I have used pruning hooks of a sort for some light trimming around the yard, but how about using pruning hooks 10 hours a day, 6 days a week to harvest olives? Wouldn't most of today's deadbeats simply make a pointy end on the handle and use it to skewer someone instead? But thankfully the government provides all, so we don't need to worry about either swords or plowshares. Just hand me another marijuana cigarette.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Aristotle (384-322BC): Pondering the Yin and the Yang.

"Moreover, if it is possible to make no affirmation that is true, even would this very position be false - I mean, the assertion that no affirmation is true. If, however; there exists any assertion that is true, that point which is put forward by these Heraclitics would be decided - I mean, such philosophers as resist the truth of things of this sort, and, in fact, altogether do away with rational discussion." - The Metaphysics, XI.5

Wow! This basically claims that Heraclitus (535-475BC) was a Gen-Y post-modernist, yet Heraclitus is the first Greek philosopher on record.

"What is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account." - Ecclesiastes 3:15

Aristotle's gripe against those who deny absolutes continues, but per the title I gave, the theme is the existence of opposites:

"But similar to the statements that have been just made is that which has been asserted by Protagoras; for likewise, he said that man is a measure of all things, - in this way affirming nothing else than that what appeared to every man, that this, also, indubitably is that which it appeared to be. If, however, this is admitted, the same thing will happen to be and not be, and to be both evil and good, and the rest of those things that are expressed in accordance with opposite assertions, ... " - The Metaphysics, XI.6

Skipping several more pages of similar discussions, we are goaded to ask if something can be both a Yin and a Yang? Can a statement be both true and false? There is a related quote from Anselm that talks of an action being both Just and Unjust at the same time. The main example that comes to mind is when a corrupt judge gets randomly mugged on his way home from work.

Launching off into the wild lands of speculation, I was pondering matter and anti-matter. Taoism and physicist-oids claim that every particle of matter must have a corresponding particle of anti-matter. This is definitely not observed in the universe, and we are left pondering why matter is so overwhelmingly superior to anti-matter. Of course evil is anti-good, and Christianity tells us that there is an anti-Christ opposed to the Christ. My Christian viewpoint is that good and Christ will overwhelmingly prevail, in spite of the current observables. They don't simply annihilate each other nor do they permanently exist in a Taoist balance of opposites. For evil to transform into good is also unthinkable except for a post-modern Heraclitic.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Assigned reading in the universities ...

There is an article on this here. Admittedly I am one of the sour grapes here since I think that great literature has become less and less common as it has become easier for those of mediocre talent to publish. But I should not complain too much. My assigned reading in college was almost entirely technical books.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Socrates: Discussing the flat earth theory ...

"And I rejoiced to think that I had found in Anaxagoras a teacher of the causes of existence such as I desired, and I imagined that he would tell me first whether the earth is flat or round; and then he would further explain the cause and the necessity of this ..." - Phaedo.

This is the closest I have gotten to a true flat earth discussion written before Washington Irving. The context isn't one of affirming the existence of a flat earth theory, but instead highlighting the inadequacy of the teaching of Anaxagoras. I have to wonder how many teachers today have mocked the flat earth theory, but would also fail to be able to "explain the cause and the necessity of this". Probably most. For those who might be in doubt, Socrates continues later:

"In the first place, the earth, when looked at from above, is like one of those balls which have leather coverings in twelve pieces ..."

This continues with some fanciful language that reminds me of Revelation. Then there is one more item of interest between these two quotes:

"I dare say that the simile is not perfect - for I am very far from admitting that he who contemplates existence through the medium of ideas, sees them only 'through a glass darkly,' any more than he who sees them in their working and effects."

This is something I came across elsewhere in Plato's writings.
Not much to look at, but it has potential ...

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Socrates: What if there were no hell?

"If death had only been the end of all, the wicked would have had a good bargain in dying, for they would have been happily quit not only of their body, but of their own evil together with their souls. But now, as the soul plainly appears to be immortal, there is no release or salvation from evil except the attainment of the highest virtue and wisdom. For the soul when on her progress to the world below takes nothing with her but nurture and education; which are indeed said greatly to benefit or greatly to injure the departed, at the very beginning of its pilgrimage in the other world." - Phaedo

This sounds very much like Pascal's Wager. Phaedo is about Socrates' reflection on death and the soul as he prepares to take the cup of poison, the 'cup' being another point of imagery that is in the Bible also.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Asleep on the Blog.

The government is certainly going to investigate. There are so many issues needing to be aired and us bloggers are critical for making sure that they are directed to their proper destination. And yet I am goofing off, taking snoozes, not catching up on the posts of those to whom I am linked, and letting issues and opinions spin around in the air until they run out of fuel and crash.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Francisco de Vitoria: Just war theory.

Having just read the account of the conquest of Mexico, I thought it would be a good time to check out the original source of Just War Theory that Vitoria wrote. This scholar has many references back to classical history, Christian fathers, the Bible, and established practice. Overall I find it as humane as the typical western conservative and a long ways from what I would have imagined from listening to leftists.

The primary thing that seems to be missing is the third party. Vitoria's notion of Just War is always state A vs. state B. What if state C intervenes on behalf of state A or B? Can this be a Just War? We face this today constantly in the case of Libya, the Ivory Coast and Afghanistan. The Vietnam and Korean wars were the same. From history, the Roman empire - of which Vitoria has much to say - owed its expansion primarily to intervention in conflicts as a third party. Vitoria's lecture notes are intended to provide guidance regarding Spain vs. "Indians", however, reading the account of the conquest of Mexico, it is clear that this is a wild simplification. The natives consisted of a large number of city states who were constantly abusing and exploiting one another with no shortage of legitimate claims to waging Just War on each other. Cortes was quite skillful in involving himself on the apparent side of justice, and restraining his actions so that everything more or less fell with in the bounds that Vitoria established for Just War.

There is one point in this that I would like to highlight:

"25. Third proposition: Other lesser folk who have no place or audience in the prince's council or in the public council are under no obligation to examine the causes of a war, but may serve in it in reliance on their betters."

I don't want to pretend to exhaust the issues here, but Just War theory as outlined here is specifically based on the concept of a monarchy. Our egalitarian culture immediately recoils at the notion of lesser folk and better folk, yet Just War theory as outlined here is premised on the existence of such distinctions. How should we modify a classical Just War notion to make it both morally defensible and applicable to Democracy?
The Conquest of New Spain.

Díaz has left me completely exhausted:

" ... the whole ninety-three days of our siege of the capital, Mexican captains were yelling and shouting night and day, mustering the bands of warriors who were to fight on the causeway, and calling to the men in the canoes who were to attack the launches and struggle with us on the bridges ... Then there was the unceasing sound of their accursed drums and trumpets, and their melancholy kettle drums in the shrines and on their temple towers. Both day and night the din was so great that we could hardly hear one another speak. But after Guatemoc's capture, all the shouting and the other noises ceased ..." - The Conquest of New Spain, The Siege and Capture of Mexico.

Of all the crazy tales I have read, whether fiction or non-fiction, this one is as intense and amazing as it gets. At the same time, it wasn't written by a novelist but rather a soldier writing of his memories. In some ways it is a reminder of the Lord of the Rings with the vast armies attacking the small band of soldiers day after day. Tolkien's battle of Helm's Deep would seem a good comparison, except that the hopelessly outnumbered band was sleeping outdoors with no fortifications and taking the offensive as often as being in defense. The high tower of Huichilobos with the sacrifices and the papas dressed in black like a Catholic monk bring back memories of Indiana Jones movies or some other works of fiction:

"For great courage was at that time required of a soldier. I must say that when I saw my comrades dragged up each day to the altar, and their chests struck open and their palpitating hearts drawn out, ... "

Enough. Reality is stranger than fiction.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Cholula: Díaz vs. las Casas.

This is getting to be quite an interesting contrast. las Casas makes all kinds of accusations against the band of Cortes, but Díaz is presenting nearly an exact opposite portrait:

"I think that my readers must have heard enough of this tale of Cholula, and I wish that I were finished with it. But I cannot omit to mention the cages of stout wooden bars that we found in the city, full of men and boys who were being fattened for the sacrifice at which their flesh would be eaten. We destroyed these cages, and Cortes ordered the prisoners who were confined in them to return to their native districts. Then, with threats, he ordered the Caciques and captains and papas of the city to imprison no more Indians in that way and to eat no more human flesh. They promised to obey him. But since they were not kept, of what use were their promises?

Let us anticipate a little and say that these were the great cruelties about which the bishop of Chiapas, Fray Bartolome de las Casas, wrote, and was never tired of talking ..." - The Conquest of New Spain, The March to Mexico, 1519

las Casas claims the conquistadors were guilty of unbelievable cruelty. Díaz says it was the natives. Having read all of the account of las Casas and half of Díaz, I think Díaz is by far the more credible. las Casas accuses the conquistadors of raping and pillaging to acquire slaves. These sorts of slaves are only useful if you can get them to market, but Cortes sank his ships. Besides, if you read anything of military history you know that an ill-disciplined band that pursues pillaging is easily defeated. Díaz claims that they always slept in their armor and military gear for fear of attacks at any time. las Casas says they were raping every female they could find. las Casas mentions specially bred and trained dogs for hunting people. Díaz mentions one greyhound.

Finally, Díaz was there and talks of what he remembered. las Casas wasn't there and does not give his sources of information. Something to meditate on the next time I struggle over the different manifestations of Chulula.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Bernal Díaz (1492-1585): The Conquest of New Spain

"The boats were then launched, and Juan de Grijalva with many of us soldiers landed to inspect this island, for we saw smoke rising from it. We found two stone buildings of good workmanship, each with a flight of steps leading up to a kind of altar, and on those altars were evil-looking idols, which were thteir gods. Here we found five Indians who had been sacrificed to them on that very night. Their chests had been struck open and their arms and thighs cut off, and the walls of these buildings were covered with blood. All this amazed us greatly, and we called this island the Isla de Sacrificios, as it is now named on the charts." - The Conquest of New Spain, The Expedition of Juan de Grijalva, 1518.

This is another book I fetched with the closing of Borders. Reading a few pages into the book, I encountered a few such passages as the one above. There doesn't seem to be any romantic noble savage concepts so far, but I have much to read. This looks to be quite a contrast to the book I read earlier by Bartolomé de las Casas (1484-1566).
Gregory of Tours: Final thoughts on The History of the Franks.

The thing that really stands out in this book is the degree to which barbarian races overran Europe with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. They were illiterate and violent. Disputes were frequently resolved by splitting a head in two with a battle axe. The populace knew nothing of Latin and the few priests faced quite a challenge. Warfare would rage for a few centuries longer as uncivilized tribes continued to challenge the barely civilized ones. Could anyone imagine that these same races would eventually take the lead in science and technology? As always, reading a first hand history gives quite a different impression than the school text books.

Adjusting ...

The computer system scrub is complete. Now that there is 100 gigabytes less data on the machine, it weighs a pound less(!). Three years of accumulated data were removed along with the history of countless programs that were installed and uninstalled. It is good to have a clean machine again and my laptop is much quicker.

Life will change, however, because I don't want to spend money for the same utilities that were on the machine. No longer will I be managing email on my computer, but instead will use the gmail web for storing and sending data. Google Chrome is the browser I am working with now rather than Netscape and Firefox. Life never stops changing.

Meanwhile, I will be slow on catching up on other blogs for a bit. I had been going through almost 200 posts of others per week.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Heading off line a bit. There is too much garbage on my PC so I am going to reformat the disk and reinstall a clean os ...

Friday, April 01, 2011

Confucius vs. Mao

It has become famous that Confucius and Mao are staring at each other across the Tian An Men square in Beijing. For those who don't know, the communists tried to erase their past, destroying works of art and writings, while also even changing the characters to make it more difficult to read earlier literature. No doubt many are pondering and pontificating over the significance of Confucius and Mao together, so I will have to add my own bit.

"Tzu-yu said, 'When a man in office finds that he can more than cope with his duties, then he studies; when a student finds that he can more than cope with his studies, then he takes office.'" - Analects, Book XIX.

A continuing theme throughout this book is that of public service. Everything is about the government, while those in agriculture, the artisans and the traders don't appear. Is it communist? A difference with communism is that Confucius would walk away from a situation where he wasn't being employed properly or the employment was undignified. That wouldn't happen in a traditional communist country.

Having just now read one of the works of Confucius (actually by his disciples), my impression is that he is being rehabilitated to add respect for the government and those who seek government work.